Benny Meyer

This article was written by Mike Huber

Benny Meyer (National Baseball Hall of Fame)It was the sixth inning of a 1913 exhibition game between the Brooklyn Superbas and Ty Cobb’s All Stars, and “there suddenly boomed from the first base coaching lines a chatter, the likes of which has not been heard from our side since the day of the Big Wind.”1 Benny Meyer was giving both teams and the crowd a sampling of his coaching:

“Give it a ride. Give it a ride…. Here’s where we all go home…. Just meet it now. J-u-s-t m-e-e-t it now-ow…. Now, Stengy, old boy, take your time; it’s there…. The infield’s still in. The outfield’s still out. We’ll never get out.”2

These were some of the words uttered by Meyer from the coaching box, loud enough for all to hear. It was this type of encouragement that led his Toronto Maple Leafs team to the 1912 International League AA pennant and subsequently earned him a spot on the Brooklyn Dodgers squad. The non-stop barking became his trademark, one that continued from his playing days until he quit coaching 50 years later. In fact, Meyer’s nickname soon became “Earache,” as he would yell a lot with his piercing voice.3 In 1925, he was named “the noisiest man in baseball.”4 He also became known as the first player to successfully hold out for more money.

Bernhard “Benny” Meyer was born in Hematite, Missouri, a small town about 30 miles south of St. Louis, on January 21, 1885. His father George was a “thrifty German carpenter”5 who moved the family from Marble Hill, Missouri, to Hematite around the time Benny was born.6 Benny was the oldest of four children born to George and Mary Louise Meyer.7 He had two brothers, William and George, and the youngest sibling was his sister Mary.

The first mention of Meyer’s baseball career begins when he “became a star on the Young Hematites, graduated to a regular position on the village team and then joined the county nine.”8 He wanted to be an infielder, having idolized Bid McPhee, Tommy Corcoran, Hughie Jennings, and Germany Smith.

As a 19-year-old in 1904, Meyer played third base in Boone, Iowa, in the Iowa State League. Meyer played the season for $100 per month. The next season found him playing for Dallas in the Texas League. A St. Louis Cardinals scout named Charley Barrett told Meyer that they needed a shortstop in Dallas. The catcher for the Dallas Giants was named Branch Rickey. Meyer later recalled, “I wasn’t a shortstop, but I went to Dallas anyway because I was out of a job.”9 When he was offered the same amount to play in Dallas, Meyer wrote them back saying, “I can make more money catching runaway horses in St. Louis.”10 A few weeks later, Meyer received his release with a note urging him to “Catch the runaway horses.”11 He must have changed his mind, for he played 107 games for Dallas and manager Curley Maloney. Meyer later told reporters, “It didn’t take long for Curly to find out I wasn’t a shortstop, but he kept me on the club and led the team in batting that year, with .277.”12 The seed for becoming a holdout had been planted.

The Boston Nationals drafted Meyer in 1906, but he was still the property of the St. Paul franchise of the American Association, and they did not release him, so Meyer played for St. Paul that year. He went to Seattle in 1907, batting .312 in 134 games, but he was back in St. Paul in 1908.

In the fall of 1908, Meyer, who was only 23 years old, signed a contract with the New York Giants. He showed up to Giants’ spring training camp, but he claimed he “never even got a warm cup of coffee”13 and was assigned to the Newark team. He spent three seasons under manager Joe McGinnity and at the end of the 1911 season, Meyer was traded to Toronto for Bob Vaughn. The best thing that came out of the Giants contract happened in 1908. Shortly after signing, Meyer felt that his baseball life was secure, so he purchased 176 acres of farm land near Hematite. He had saved some of his previous salaries, but he was forced to “go into hock to the extent of some $3000.”14 The papers reported that the local bank gave him a loan, since Meyer was putting Hematite on the map as a ballplayer. Benny’s father took over managing the property and Benny paid off the mortgage while playing for Newark. George Meyer established a business of purchasing and selling mules and cattle. His farm also sold farm and dairy products “for the ready St. Louis markets.”15

In 1912, Meyer was playing in the AA International League for the Maple Leafs. In 134 games, he batted .343 with five home runs, 11 triples, and a slugging percentage of .475, leading Toronto to the pennant. Sometime during 1912, Meyer married. He and his wife Ruth gave an interview to the Baltimore Sun, but they provided few details about their marriage.16

The Brooklyn Dodgers management had heard of Meyer’s baseball skills and wanted to sign him. Benny visited a printer in town and made some stationary with “Meyer Stock Farm, Benjamin Meyer, Proprietor. Raiser of Blooded Cattle, Hogs and Chickens”17 across the top. He then penned Mr. Ebbets a letter, explaining that he had retired from baseball and “his large interests in the stock business demand[ed] all his time.”18 He visited his neighbors and borrowed their cattle. A sign, painted with Meyer Stock Farm, was hung over the gate to the farm. When Ebbets’ representative, Steve McKeever, came to visit, neighbors helped Meyer by coming to discuss buying, selling and market conditions. Mr. Ebbets was informed of the situation and formed the opinion “that a man of Benny Meyer’s capabilities was needed on the Brooklyn club.”19 Meyer forever became known as the first publicized holdout in Major League Baseball history. He later told reporters that McKeever was convinced that Meyer should play for Brooklyn that he “reached into the top of his pants and came out with $1000.”20 Brooklyn had agreed to pay Meyer more than the $2,400 limit they normally paid, and Meyer didn’t complain, saying, “There were a lot of better players on the club making $1500.”21

The Brooklyn newspapers touted Meyer’s arrival. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “It is years since a player came to Brooklyn with so promising a reputation as an all-around pastimer. Our hero batted .343 for 134 games, making 160 hits in 467 times at bat, and scoring 89 runs. He is credited with being a great man on the coaching lines.”22 The local sports writers also described his vocal nature, stating that Meyer is “a coacher of rare ability, one of the best headliners on the side lines that ever jarred their tympani with wild clamor designed to encourage the runner and disconcert the opposition. He originates quips and jests, and is full of Pure Food Law pep and ginger in the original package bearing a facsimile of the only genuine signature.”23

Unfortunately, the Superbas did not get off to a good start in 1913, despite having stars like Casey Stengel, who batted .316 as a rookie in 1912, and Jake Daubert, who led the league in batting in 1913 with a mark of .350. In the first game of the season, Meyer was credited with losing the game for the Superbas, who opened the season against Philadelphia at Ebbets Field. According to the Richmond Item, “With one out, [Otto] Knabe doubled. Meyer muffed [Hans] Lobert’s foul in the sun field but Stengel overcame this error by making a sensational catch of a long fly from the same batter. Then Meyer muffed [Sherry] Magee’s fly, letting Knabe in with the only run of the contest.”24 Brooklyn won 13 of 16 games to begin the month of May, grabbing first place in the National League, but by mid-June, they had sunk to fourth place. McKeever was complaining in the papers about Meyer’s performance. The part-owner blamed Meyer for two defeats after “losing fly balls in the sun of right field.”25 It was widely known that Ebbets Field’s right field was the worst park for outfielders to patrol, due to the harsh sun. McKeever, who could have been upset about his role in the famous holdout, was quoted as saying, “What the devil’s the use of letting Meyer muff balls when there are two such fine Irishmen as [Herbie] Moran and [Leo] Callahan warming the bench and aching for a chance to win fame and glory for dear old Brooklyn?”26

So, Meyer didn’t get into too many Brooklyn lineups (38 games in which he batted just .195 with one home run and 10 runs batted in). Manager Bill Dahlen used him in pinch-running and pinch-hitting roles. However, by July, Meyer saw more action, primarily as a centerfielder. So, in 1914, “the Federal League came along and I jumped over to the Feds because Baltimore gave me a three-year contract and $5000 for signing.”27 Just before the season started, the Baltimore Sun described the Terrapins’ new outfielder, who would be Baltimore’s lead-off batter, as “a good judge of a ball. He also can hit and when he gets on can scamper around the sacks in pretty fast time. Benny is a fairly good base pilferer, too, so he is the right man in the right place.”28

This was Meyer’s best season, as he hit .304 for the fledgling Federal League team. He hit five home runs (a career high) and totaled 71 walks to accompany his 152 hits. Defensively, he played all three outfield positions plus four games as the team’s shortstop. His 16 errors in right field led the league.

With only 35 games played in the 1915 season, the seventh-place Baltimore Terrapins traded Meyer to the last-place Buffalo Blues, still in the Federal League, for outfielder Joe Agler. The Buffalo Express announced the move with, “Megaphone Benny Meyer, ranking as one of the best sideline coachers in baseball today, lead-off man extraordinary, possessor and purveyor of baseball pep in large quantities, a sweet and all-around ballplayer and one of the most popular players that ever wore a uniform on a Buffalo field, is now a member of the Buffalo Blues.”29 Further, readers were informed that Meyer’s pep-talking ability and vigilant approach to the game would be welcome in Buffalo: “Meyer is a hard working ball player of the type that never says die and never knows defeat until the last man is out.”30 According to C. Starr Matthews of the Baltimore Sun, the trade had been in the workings since the winter. He wrote, “Meyer is very popular here, but he certainly has not played good ball. He has a splendid eye for a ball, but waits entirely too often and too long. His hits seldom come when a run is to be driven in. In the field he is far from dependable, and many a ball dropped to the ground out at Terrapin Park which he should have caught with ease.”31

When the Federal League folded at the end of the 1915 season, Meyer went back to Brooklyn, trying to make the squad. The Dodgers assigned him to Toronto, but the International League barred players who had jumped to the Federal League, so Meyer didn’t play baseball in 1916. He drifted from Mobile (Southern Association) in 1917 to Topeka and Oklahoma City (both in the Western League) in 1918 to Tulsa (Western League) in 1919. In 1923, the 38-year-old outfielder played 52 games for the Salina Millers (Southwestern League).

In 14 minor league seasons, Meyer played approximately 1220 games.32 Minor League records from that era are incomplete, but of the statistics available, Meyer amassed 1135 hits in 4068 at-bats (a .279 batting average), in AA, A, C and D baseball leagues. All of his plate appearances were treated as at-bats, and there are no official tallies for any walks, runs scored, runs batted in, or even strikeouts.

In 1921, Meyer was offered a franchise in the Class C Southwestern League, with a team in Miami, Oklahoma. Years later, he told reporters, “I got the offer in March, when I should have had my team in spring training. But I didn’t have a single player.”33 So, he ran an ad in The Sporting News and held try-outs in St. Louis at Robison Field. More than 30 players showed up.34 Meyer departed that venture mid-season and became a scout in the minor leagues, thus beginning a second career that spanned more than 45 years.

In 1924, a full-time coaching opportunity presented itself when Art Fletcher, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, recruited Meyer “to serve him as an ivory hunter. Meyer’s knowledge of the bushes should serve him well in the scouting job.”35 At the end of the season, Meyer contemplated retirement. According to an interview he gave with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he “just wanted to go back to the farm and sit up on a crick bank under a big shade tree and watch the crawfish die.”36 But he returned to the Phillies in 1925 as a coach. Fletcher did give Meyer one more chance to add a statistic to his career. On September 22, 1925, in a game at Forbes Field, the Pittsburgh Pirates demolished the Phillies, 14-4. With the game out of reach, Meyer entered as a defensive replacement (taking over for Bernie Friberg at second base — Friberg went behind the plate to catch). This also meant that Meyer got to bat one final time. He led off the ninth inning and doubled to left, later scoring when Chicken Hawks singled. In his final game of his career, the 40-year-old Meyer had one at-bat with one hit (a double) and one run scored. His average for the 1925 season was 1.000 and his slugging percentage was 2.000, for an OPS of 3.000. After the season, Meyer became a full-time scout. His tenure with the Phillies lasted from 1924 to 1926, and he spent 1928 to 1930 as a scout for the Detroit Tigers.

In 1929, Babe Ruth authored a column in the Pittsburgh Press, addressing the peculiarities of certain ball players, active and retired. Ruth called Meyer as “the noisiest coacher in either league. Benny has a voice like a fog horn and he starts exercising it when the first batter steps to the plate. And it’s still going strong at the finish.”37

In 1945, Meyer managed the Grand Rapids Chicks, a women’s team that played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in Grand Rapids, Michigan.38 The Chicks finished the season in third place (60-50), behind the second-place Fort Wayne Daisies and champion Rockford Peaches.

Even as he aged, Meyers was recognized as a good coach. Rogers Hornsby, who had spent much of the late 1940s as director of a youth baseball program in Chicago sponsored by the Chicago Daily News,39 operated the Rogers Hornsby Baseball School in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Meyer helped out as his assistant.40

By the mid-1960s, Meyer was the oldest scout in baseball,41 now for the Chicago White Sox (with whom he worked for thirteen years42). Newspapers still interviewed him about his holdout with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he stuck to the original story. When he died on February 6, 1974, at the age of 89, The Sporting News wrote, “What Meyer lacked in talent, he made up for in brass when it came to negotiating his contracts.”43

 

Sources

In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted Benny Meyer’s file from the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, baseball-reference.com and retrosheet.org.

Notes

1 “Benny Meyer on the Coaching Line,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 30, 1913: 59.

2 Ibid.

3 baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Benny_Meyer.  Accessed May 2018.

4 “Benny Meyer, Phil Coach, Impressed Ebbets With His Vast Stock Farm,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 18, 1925: 25.

5 “Benny Meyer’s Life is Like One of Horatio Alger’s Tales,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 30, 1913: 59.

6 In the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Ibid), it was reported that Benny was born in Marble Hill, which is about 85 miles southeast of Hematite, and the family moved “soon after Benny bustled into the surroundings.” Both retrosheet.org and baseball-reference.com list Benny’s birthplace as Hematite.

7 Family information was discovered at ancestry.com.  Accessed June 2018.

8 “Benny Meyer’s Life is Like One of Horatio Alger’s Tales.”

9 Ed Wilks, “Benny Meyer Pegged Them Out At First Base — From Right Field,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 25, 1966: 34. Hereafter referred to as Wilks I.

10 Ed Wilks, “The Dodgers’ Great Holdout: Benny Meyer in 1913, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 24, 1966: 26. Hereafter referred to as Wilks II.

11 Ibid.

12 Wilks I.

13 “Benny Meyer’s Life is Like One of Horatio Alger’s Tales.”

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid

16 “‘Dolly and I’ See Mr. and Mrs. Meyer,” Baltimore Sun, June 4, 1914: 10.

17 Philadelphia Inquirer.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 John Rackaway, “Bennie Meyer A Famous Holdout With Dodgers Just 53 Years Ago,” Mt. Vernon Register News (Mt. Vernon, Illinois), July 29, 1966: 8.

21 Ibid.

22 “Benny Meyer’s Life is Like One of Horatio Alger’s Tales.”

23 Rice, “Sport Comment,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 20, 1913: 12.

24 “Recruit Loses First Game for Brooklyn,” Richmond Item (Richmond, Indiana), April 10, 1913: 8.

25 “Why M’Keever Soured on Benny Meyer,” Daily Chronicle (DeKalb, Illinois), June 17, 1913: 6.

26 Ibid.

27 Wilks II. 

28 “Meyer Will Lead Off,” Baltimore Sun, March 14, 1914: 7.

29 “Benny Meyer Now a Buffed,” Buffalo Express, June 2, 1915: 13.

30 Ibid.

31 C. Starr Matthews, “Knabe Trades Benny Meyer For Joe Agler, Of Buffalo,” Baltimore Sun, June 2, 1915: 8.

32 According to baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=meyer-001ber, Meyer’s career numbers are incomplete. Meyer is credited with at least 1135 hits in 4068 at-bats and nine home runs.

33 Wilks II. 

34 “All Busy in Southwestern,” The Sporting News, April 7, 1921: 3.

35 “The Fanning Bee Hive,” Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kansas), February 9, 1924: 3.

36 Wilks I.

37 Babe Ruth, “Ruth Tells About Peculiarities of Ball Players,” Pittsburgh Press, May 25, 1929: 12.

38 The Chicks had won the AAGPBL championship in 1944, when they played in Milwaukee. They moved to Grand Rapids when the 1945 season began, and Meyer became the manager.

39 C. Paul Rogers III, “Rogers Hornsby,” sabr.org/bioproj/person/b5854fe4. Accessed June 2018.

40 Wilks II.

41 Wilks I.

42 “Benny Meyer Dies: Outfielder From 1913-25,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 7, 1974: 30.

43 “Obituaries,” The Sporting News, February 23, 1974: 39.

Full Name

Bernhard Meyer

Born

January 21, 1885 at Hematite, MO (USA)

Died

February 6, 1974 at Festus, MO (USA)

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